We caught up with Josh Gottsegen, children’s book author of The Adventures of Rockford T. Honeypot. He shared the inspiration for the tales of his shy, bookish chipmunk, how he found the inspiration for his characters and how he developed his stories.
Josh Gottsegen is a Los Angeles native and has a background in filmmaking and digital media. He is the author of “Joosh’s Juice Bar,” an early elementary school children’s book series about healthy eating habits. He earned his BA in film studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara and has won numerous awards for his short films and video productions.
In Gottsegen’s recent book, Rockford T. Honeypot wants to explore and discover what happens in the forest around his home. But he is afraid of danger and germs. He turns to books and his imagination to feed his hunger for adventure.
When Rockford T. Honeypot’s family abandons him and his family’s hazelnut business is destroyed, he embarks on a series of adventures. He explores cuisines with a famous chef, trains with ancient warrior monks, flies on giant hawks and finds true love. Rockford T. Honeypot’s story shows how he conquers hardship, perseveres and finds fortune.
What inspired you to write this book?
Josh Gottsegen: In 2014, I wrote a children’s book about a family who runs a juice bar in Tropland Forest with the intention to make healthy eating “cool.” After completing three books in my “Joosh’s Juice Bar” picture book series, I decided to dedicate a full story of another character in Tropland. As I was brainstorming ideas, a close friend of mine fell ill, so I wrote a collection of short stories for her while she was in the hospital, all of which had messages of never giving up in the face of any obstacle. During her recovery, I continued to write and developed one of the stories, “The Adventures of Rockford T Honeypot,” while sharing each chapter with my friend during her path to recovery. I was motivated and inspired to write something filled with laughs, love, perseverance, and excitement for both of us. She is now 100% healthy, happy, and strong.
Was Rockford inspired by a real person?
Rockford is a compilation of a number of special people in my life. Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of germs, but I love to explore. From an early age, Rockford had a gut feeling to ‘change the forest’ in some way, shape, or form. I have always wanted to be a storyteller and create stories (from books to movies) that entertain and inspire others. My grandfather, who was an army vet inspired me and related fascinating stories during his service that included adventure, exotic places and his willingness to do new things, meet new people and go to new places.
What made you decide to make your main character a chipmunk?
The central theme is overcoming the impossible. I wanted to tell a larger than life origin story of the most successful animal in the forest while staying true to the ups and downs we all face in our lives. I instantly knew a chipmunk would be perfect for the main character. Aside from being a fan of Disney’s Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers when I was young, I knew the epic adventures of a smaller animal would stay true to the theme: even one of the smallest animals can have the biggest impact in the world. Anything is possible.
Do any of the ideas in the book come from your own childhood?
Not really.. I set out to write a story that would translate into many cultures and languages. Hopefully, one day, we’ll see a Rockford film or tv show!
How did you select the names of your characters?
Some of the character’s first initials would be named by people I know. Others were inspired by movie or tv characters that I admire.
What messages can be taken from your book to help kids who are experiencing bullying or are fearful during unprecedented times?
Bullying in any capacity is not fun. I’ve experienced bullying when I was young, too. It’s important you have somebody to talk to and to confide with. We don’t want to keep all the pain inside, because it’s planting a seed that will grow with negativity when you get older. Having family or friends who love you, and who can see you for who you really are will help you define your identity. Never give up on your dreams, even when people tell you it’s impossible. If you have a goal in life and work hard towards reaching the “unshelled diamonds” on your path, anything is possible. Secondly, Rockford’s communication with all animals throughout the book, no matter the species, comes from a place of respect, gratitude, and kindness. It didn’t matter if it was a squirrel or rabbit; he treated others the way he wanted to be treated. Even during unprecedented times, kindness is the language of peace. It’s not easy, but we can all try every day.
When you began writing this book, did you know what the ending would be?
I knew how the ending was going to unfold. It was a story I hadn’t seen or read before and wanted to write something unique and bittersweet.
How was your illustrator chosen for this particular book project?
I found Viktoria Kleyn on a website while looking for talented artists. After seeing some of her previous work, I knew immediately that she would give life to my words with her illustrations. She’s very talented, and I spent many hours explaining and revising each image as we tried to create a pictorial representation that encapsulated each chapter.
What was your favorite subject in school?
I was always drawn to world history and psychology.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
The idea of writer’s block is different for everyone. Writing stories can be challenging at any age. Of course, the most important aspect is the discipline to write without being distracted. I had to put my phone on “do not disturb” and try my hardest not to browse the web or watch random YouTube videos to procrastinate. Writing is like working out your muscles; at first, it’s challenging to start, but once you create a routine and motivate yourself in your own way, it becomes easier and more rewarding.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I recently re-read The Alchemist and was had a very different interpretation that when I read it years ago. It’s always been one of my favorites, but a novel that can reveal inspiration throughout your life is very appreciated. Secondarily, Siddhartha had the same effect.
What is your favorite childhood book?
The Alchemist, for the reasons above. 🙂